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Local government is the most effective option in managing parks
By RUTH ANDERSON
In a recent opinion column, CC Stone wrote that a nonprofit might be preferable to local government in taking care of our parks. I disagree because I appreciate the unique value of a locally controlled government entity. I was there 30 years ago when the Vashon Park District was formed.
While it is true that the park district began without funding or paid staff, we received enthusiastic support from island voters to create a municipal corporation that was eligible to do much more than a nonprofit. The goal was to increase local control of our parks, which, in time, we did. We knew we could better meet the needs for parks and recreation programs than our former provider, King County Parks. (King County was putting more emphasis on its regional parks. Unincorporated communities were not getting the service they wanted at the local level.)
Because the Vashon Park District (VPD) is not a nonprofit, it is eligible to receive funds from many other government programs. This was very important in the beginning because the first board of commissioners wanted to demonstrate to our citizens that much could be done without local property tax support.
The first VPD success was to bring the U.S. Army back to clean up the former Nike missile launch site at Paradise Ridge, now known as Paradise Ridge Park. Only a government agency was eligible to lease this federal surplus property. This project required heavy demolition and removal, asbestos removal and skills beyond those of volunteers. The Army accomplished the work with federal funds authorized by the Environmental Restoration Fund. No local monies were provided.
Next there was a perfectly timed donation of land. It enabled the park district to improve the ramp at the north-end ferry dock. This is where the collaboration with a land trust (in this case it was The Trust for Public Land) is crucial. By receiving title to the donated land on our behalf, the trust held it. The property owner received the income tax benefit of the donation, and VPD applied for a grant from the state of Washington to renovate the beach access ramp adjacent to the north-end ferry dock.
Once again, our local government agency demonstrated that we could bring funds without taxing, and only a local government was eligible to apply for the grant. The Trust for Public Land transferred the donated parcel to the VPD, and the donation value was used as our local share of a grant to fix the beach access ramp.
With excellent coverage by The Beachcomber, thanks to Jay Becker, the Vashon Park District was showing our community that it was a good thing to create a local government entity. I believe these early successes led to voter approval of so much more that was to follow.
In her opinion column, Ms. Stone wrote that a “comparison between the land trust and the park district … is stark and not at all favorable to the park district.”
I disagree. Thousands of volunteer hours contributed by commissioners, coaches, park stewards, mentors, experts in many fields, and yes, many with “vision, drive and talent” have brought and will continue to bring better parks and recreation programs to our island. Let’s look to the future instead of trying to discredit past accomplishments. The land trust is a nonprofit with a board elected solely by its membership. The park commissioners are elected by all of us, the voters.
Yes, there have been growing pains. But as a voter, YOU have the power. You can be elected to the board. You can speak to the board. You can organize. The VPD is accountable to you. Our democratic process is messy and sometimes frustratingly slow, but government entities serve you. They are audited as the VPD was audited by the state of Washington, and necessary changes are being made.
— Ruth Anderson, a retired National Park Service manager, was co-founder of the Vashon Park District. She currently serves as a citizen member of the state of Washington’s Recreation and Conservation Office’s local project review committee.